We are facing an emergency the like of which most of us have never experienced.
Quite rightly, we are currently concentrating on fighting the battle. The incredible surge of support from the public and the government has been heart-warming to see. But once the immediate threat recedes the profound disruption to our lives will take a long time to heal.
I’m a relative newcomer to the community sector and have been blown away by the work that gets done by the thousands of community groups all around the UK. It’s clear to me that a successful recovery from this Covid crisis will require the nourishing and strengthening of these small, grass-roots organisations already embedded in their local communities.
As happens in other emergencies (whether caused by natural disasters or wars), we currently have blanket news coverage of the problems being faced. And we are seeing an amazing response from the public who have come together in their hundreds of thousands to support their neighbours.
Just like other emergencies, there will come a time when the cameras will turn away from the immediacy of the problems and will start to focus on other events. It feels unlikely right now, but it will happen. Possibly in the next few months. After all, we still have Brexit to get through and the post-Covid blame-game and eventually the restarting of sport fixtures and the antics of celebrities who will start to steal the headlines once again.
As the news agenda moves away to other things, this country, along with many others, will likely face the worst economic crisis in living memory. As we’re plunged into that recession, millions of people will face an uncertain future with little sense of how they can rebuild their lives.
Here in the UK, local authorities and many brilliant charities provide an essential safety net to support people facing the biggest disadvantages. Alongside these organisations, there exists another whole tier of support provided by groups that fall under the radar for being so small and yet provide invaluable services. These are the community groups, small charities and community businesses that have grown from the grass-roots and are embedded in the very fabric of their local communities.
If you don’t benefit from or work with community initiatives yourself then take Not Home Alone as an example. This family family run initiative (pictured above) tackles isolation among hundreds of senior citizens in the Grimsby area. Or look at Made in Hackney (pictured below) who provide a local cookery school and have changed the lives of 15,000 vulnerable, low income and marginalised people by giving them access to affordable and nutritious food.
These smaller organisations are habitually overlooked and under-resourced. But they achieve amazing results on tiny budgets driven by the energy and profound dedication of the volunteers they often rely on to get their work done.
These are the groups that simply must still be here after the cameras move away. It’s precisely at that moment, during the long-tail of Covid-19, when the services they provide will be even more important in keeping communities together, providing support, hope and connection.
I used to work at Comic Relief and so I know that NGOs that receive emergency funding to save people’s lives at times of disaster have to be on the ground to rebuild communities for months and years after the emergency strikes. Similarly, we have a long road to recovery ahead and community groups will play a vital role in the rebuilding process long after the dust has settled.
In the last weeks, new funding and new structures have set up quickly to meet an urgent need. We must make sure that the network of small, yet vital local community initiatives are not overlooked as this structural and economic support continues. These groups were there before the crisis began and they will be needed more than ever once it is over. They need our help and funding NOW to ensure they are here for us in the long-term.
Let’s work together to find ways to ensure that these amazing community groups, grassroots charities and community businesses can survive in order to help our country rebuild from the grassroots up.